Sport pays trib­ute to ‘one-off ’ Mccrir­ick

Fear­less jour­nal­ist found his niche as bet­ting guru in front of TV cam­era, writes Mar­cus Army­tage

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Racing -

John Mccrir­ick, the for­mer ITV and Chan­nel 4 bet­ting guru, book­maker and jour­nal­ist, died peace­fully in his sleep yes­ter­day. He was 79 and had been ill for some time.

Trib­utes flowed in yes­ter­day, among them one from Sir An­thony Mccoy, who said: “John was just about the most recog­nis­able fig­ure in horse rac­ing when I came to Eng­land. That says a lot about him – that he wasn’t a trainer or jockey. He had at­ti­tude, he had a voice and said what he thought, he wasn’t fright­ened of up­set­ting some­body.”

Nick Luck joined Chan­nel

4 at a young age, and was al­most taken un­der his wing by Mccrir­ick. “You might think this mas­sive char­ac­ter would be in­tim­i­dat­ing, but he was ac­tu­ally in­cred­i­bly kind,” Luck said.

At the height of his ca­reer, with his bushy side­burns, ex­trav­a­gant clothes of­ten topped off with a deer­stalker hat, co­pi­ous amounts of jew­ellery and a large cigar, Mccrir­ick was for a long time bet­ter known even than the sport’s other great show­man, Frankie Det­tori. Of course, his oc­ca­sional rants on tele­vi­sion were not to ev­ery­one’s taste, but he knew his sub­ject, bet­ting, in­side out and played up to his au­di­ence with an act that could be as se­ri­ous as it was daft. Hav­ing spent much of his early life in Jersey, he ended up at Har­row School. Af­ter a stint in ca­ter­ing at the Dorch­ester, he was drawn to book­mak­ing. He then moved on to The Sport­ing Life, rac­ing’s trade news­pa­per at the time. In 1978, he was named spe­cial­ist writer of the year at the Bri­tish Press Awards for, among other things, ex­pos­ing the Rochester grey­hound coup. A year later, he was cam­paign­ing jour­nal­ist of the year af­ter he proved the Tote was au­tho­ris­ing bets af­ter the off to re­duce div­i­dends.

It was, how­ever, in front of the cam­era that he found his niche in life for 30 years, be­gin­ning with Derby day in 1981 when Sher­gar ran away with the race. He was part and par­cel of rac­ing cov­er­age on ITV and then Chan­nel 4 and was dis­traught to be put out to grass in 2012 be­cause, he claimed, of old age.

His main­stay was his wife, Jenny, who drove him ev­ery­where, man­aged him, cooked for him and stood by him ev­ery yard of the way. They were a great cou­ple, who were rarely apart.

One of my best mem­o­ries of “Big Mac” – he al­ways called me “Mr Frisk” – was when we were guests of a bet­ting firm at the Oval for the South Africa Test in 1994. It was a Sun­day morn­ing and Devon Mal­colm had mopped up the op­po­si­tion by lunch time and our hosts in­vited us to their of­fices about a mile away. I walked across the square with “Big Mac”, out through the exit and past the pub where sev­eral thou­sand cricket fans had gath­ered for a cel­e­bra­tory drink.

As we walked past, the noise and chat­ter abated for a few sec­onds. In the si­lence you could al­most hear the dou­ble-take and them ask­ing: “Is that John Mccrir­ick? Yes it is.”

Then the loud­est cheer erupted and they called on Mccrir­ick to stand on a ta­ble and ad­dress them. There fol­lowed 10 min­utes of hi­lar­i­ous in­ter­ac­tion be­fore we con­tin­ued on our way, cricket fans and Mccrir­ick equally sat­is­fied.

In a world in­creas­ingly de­void of such crea­tures, Mccrir­ick was an ec­cen­tric and huge char­ac­ter. There is no way of mea­sur­ing it but I dare say he drew more peo­ple to the sport than any­one else. He was unique, a one-off, and most of us will miss him.

Obit­u­ary: Main sec­tion, P29

Show­man: John Mccrir­ick knew how to play up to his au­di­ence Cap­tion cap­tion

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